Pronoun Problems on our Gender Journey

We were walking back home from the pool, my 8-year sparkly son and I, when we had a conversation that tugged at my heart and left me hoping I’d handled it well… at least well enough.

At 8-years old, my sparkly son is becoming more aware of himself in relation to others and their reactions to him. This has added an extra layer of complexity to his gender journey.

Once relatively unaffected by others’ side-eyes and commentary, my 8-year-old is now increasingly sensitive to these social signals. He’s begun to realize that, more often than not, when people realize that he is a boy — despite outwardly appearing to be a girl — people react with a mixture of surprise and embarrassment or thinly veiled disapproval.

“It’s always the same face,” he has told me twice now. “They don’t look at me the same way when they realize I’m a ‘he.'” Hearing this breaks my heart. It’s a reality I was hoping would never come, or maybe to which he’d be immune by way of his firm awareness of and loyalty to self.

The initial conversation came a few weeks ago. There was an incident on the beach. My kids were all playing with some children in the sand when the new friends’ grandparents joined in. One grandparent referred to my sparkly son as “she” and my 6-year-old son, in an effort to affirm and stand up for his older brother who often took offenseto being misgendered, corrected the grandparent. “He’s a ‘he’,” my littlest told the grandparents. According to my sparkly son, they recoiled and said, “Oh.”

The evening of the beach incident, my sparkly son snuggled next to me after his bedtime story and told me he had been thinking about his pronouns. He wanted to be referred to as: he/she. I told him I honored that, then asked him what spurred the decision. He recounted the grandparent scenario from earlier that day and said, “I don’t want people to react like that, so it’s better if they don’t know. They can just call me ‘he’ or ‘she’ so they don’t look at me like that.”

I asked, “Are you requesting these pronouns for you because they feel right and true for you, or are you requesting them so people don’t judge you?” He thought a moment and said he was doing it so people wouldn’t give him the look anymore.

As my heart crumbled, I hugged him and said that I will always honor him and his pronouns but that he shouldn’t change who he is for other people, and certainly shouldn’t pretend to be something that isn’t true to him just to maybe please people. He should be proud of who he is and if people don’t accept him, they have let him know that they are not his people. This resonated with him.

A few quiet minutes later, he said he wanted to take more time to think about the pronouns. Then, he asked that we not correct people anymore if they misgender him because he wanted to avoid “the look.” Swallowing the lump in my throat, I agreed and promptly discussed the new expectation with my other children.

I didn’t sleep well that night.

I didn’t let my sparkly son know that though.

The following weeks were filled with family and friends. No misgendering occurred. Part of me thought we’d escaped the hurdle, at least temporarily.

Yesterday, my three kids were playing at the pool with some unfamiliar children. One child kindly referred to my sparkly son as, “she.” The moment the child said it, my breath caught. I’m pretty sure my sparkly son’s breath did too. In that moment, I realized the weight I now carried to honor and protect my sparkly son’s wishes.

I became acutely aware of the affectionate and colloquial terms I used in reference to my sparkly son. I made certain not to call him by his full name when he was unresponsive to my calls, because his middle name is clearly masculine unlike his gender neutral sounding first name. I avoided pronouns altogether. I had to be sure not to “out” him.

On our way home from the pool, I asked my sparkly son how he’d felt when his new playmate had referred to him as “she.” He said, “It made me nervous.” I said I was sorry he felt nervous and asked him why he felt that way. “I didn’t want them to find out and give me the look. It’s always the same look.” I said I was sorry he had to worry about that. I asked if part of him felt happy when the friend called him, “she.” He said he wasn’t. I asked if we’d all handled it OK, and he confirmed that we had. I told him I was glad to hear that.

And so our gender journey continues its lengthy, winding path. But we’re all on this path with our sparkly son — stumbles and all — letting him lead the way.

6 Things I Tell My Kids to Encourage Resilience

I’m a human parenting three distinctly unique humans, we are all making mistakes and encountering problems (some self-created) on the daily. But how we approach those challenges — and ourselves in relation to them — is key. Do we allow ourselves to get stuck? Or do we find a way forward?

Sometimes we humans get so focused on what isn’t working that we become incapable of seeing the solution. We may even completely surrender our own power for the role of situational victim. However, more often than not, if we just take a deep breath, zoom out, and look at the issue with an eye, not toward the problem, but toward the solution, we can find a positive outcome. And, in doing so, we regain our power.

These are some key phrases I say almost daily to encourage resilience in my children.

1.” If what you’re doing isn’t working, try doing it a different way.” My son was struggling to maneuver a scooter up a steep hill. Over and over again, his little 5-year-old legs would push-glide 3/4 of the way up the incline and, just at the steepest point, he’d come streaking down the slope. “It’s unpossible!” He finally declared in a fit of kindergartener angst. I knelt down and told him that I knew it was frustrating and saw him trying, then said, “If what you’re doing isn’t working, try doing it differently.” He took a deep breath, looked at the path, then began walking his scooter up the hill. He reached the top and grinned. All it took was a shift in approach, and isn’t that so very much the case in life? Often we get stuck in patterns of behavior that do nothing but derail and frustrate us. We keep repeating the same steps, same words, same actions (or reactions), and keep getting the same undesirable results. Just as often, all it takes to propel us towards our desired outcome is a change in our method. It could be as simple as holding the paper differently, mounting our bike on the curb, rewording our sentence, or changing one element of our morning routine, but that minute shift can make all of the difference.

2. “Look around you for your answer.” My sparkly son is quick to learn math, but spelling is his struggle point. When he’s writing, he’ll often ask me how to spell a word. So, I’ve begun to tell him to look around the room to see if there is a place where the word he’s looking for might be written. Is the desired word always neatly scrolled across a world map or included in a book? Not always, but it’s important for him to think of ways to solve the problem without relying on me or technology. And sometimes, the mere act of literally shifting focus brings about the recollection of how to spell the word or inspires substitution with a suitable synonym. He regains his power by solving his own problem. Sometimes all we need to do is look around to see more clearly.

3. “If you say you can’t, you can’t.” The mind is a powerful thing, as are words. When my daughter was learning to ride a bike, every time she said, “Mommy, I can’t!” She’d fall. Every. Single. Time. And when she didn’t say it, she didn’t fall. So, we banned the use of, “I can’t.” After all, telling ourselves that we can’t do something is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If doubt or fear is too much to stomach a heartfelt, “I can,” go with a solid, “I can try.” Flip the script and the trajectory all in one step!

4. “Don’t tell me the problem; ask for the solution.” “Mommy, I’m hungry.” How many times do we here that every day? One day, I realized that that simple and frequent statement was removing problem resolution practice for my children and tasking me with mind reading. Did they want an apple, an orange, a granola bar? Was this a ploy for midday treats? Instead of falling into the guessing game pattern, I began handing the responsibility back to them. “Don’t tell me the problem; ask for the solution.” I remind them. Now, of course this isn’t applicable to all problem scenarios, but simple situations like, “I’m bored”, “I’m hungry”, “I’m tired”… those are perfect opportunities to train thought towards solution rather than stagnating on the problem.

5. “Think outside of the box.” One morning, my daughter was struggling with a drawing section on a worksheet. It just wasn’t coming out the way she wanted, and I could see that she was spinning around the problem, positioning herself to get mired in a self-defeating cloud of negative self-talk. I asked if she wanted a hug, told her I understood that she was upset, then reminded her to, “Think outside of the box.” How could she get creative and solve the problem? We thought about ways of tweaking the drawing so that the blips were boons, but it wasn’t feasible. Instead, she decided to paste a blank piece of paper over the drawing portion of the worksheet and start fresh. She was, literally, breaking out of the printed box and creating her own solution! This happens to us so often in life. We make a mistake and think we have to scrap everything because it didn’t go as planned. But why waste an opportunity to be creative, when we can upcycle our mistakes? We shouldn’t hinder ourselves — or our children — because of perceived limitations. If we expand our minds and aim for creative thought, we are not just problem solvers and creators, we are turning that “mistake” into a masterpiece.

6. I believe in you. This. Is. Key. I tell my children this every day. I believe in them deeply and truly. I believe they can climb the hill, learn a new skill, conquer self-doubt, solve the problem, overcome fear, pursue goals, move towards positive outcomes. I believe wholeheartedly in them as unique individuals with hard-won and innate skills, as well as personal growth opportunities. They know this. They know that just as I love them unconditionally as individuals, my belief in them is unending. This awareness of my love for and belief in them inspires a belief in themselves. And that self-confidence is pivotal for resilience.

What do you do or say to inspire resilience in your own children?

My 5 Big Homeschool Struggles

Homeschool was a journey I didn’t expect to undertake, but one that has proven immensely beneficial to my family. But as positive a shift as it’s been for my kids, how has it manifested for me?

The answer to that question depends on the day, to be honest. Some days are easier and lighter than others. Then, there are the jagged days, the long days, the up-and-down or downright tired days. Humans are fickle and, well, we’ve got plenty of humans in their safe, free-to-be-my-full-self space involved in this scenario!

My top five personal struggles during my first year of homeschooling have been:

1. Having little personal time. This was to be the year I would have the most kid-free time since before I had our first child. For the first time in 9 years, I was supposed to have no children at home during the day. Oh my, all the things I could do with that time! I could teach more yoga classes, run more errands, meet friends for walks, or take up a new hobby. The world was my figurative oyster. And then… 2020 happened. So, now, instead of having all three kids in school full day, I AM the school each day. Even carving out an hour to walk with a friend or by myself is a feat. That lack of autonomy is probably the biggest struggle for me.

2. Being permanently on duty. We have instituted early bedtimes for our children for many reasons, one of which being the need for my husband and I to have time together when we’re not on kid duty. The problem: I’m always on duty. Whether it’s a late evening need for a hug, a headache from reading too long by flashlight, a sleepy tumble out of the bed, or a sleepwalk stroll to my bedside, I inevitably am the one the kids call upon. My husband is certainly an active co-parent, but there are some things kids insist that only Mom can manage. This makes for particularly long days and weeks, as there is little time in the day when I am not the default parent. It gets to be tiresome in every way. After all, even carrying a sack of feathers will get burdensome eventually.

3. Being perpetually flexible. When my husband’s schedule changes, when a pick-up time shifts, when an appointment runs long, or an errand becomes urgent, I must accommodate the change. Often, this sets my personal plans aside and adds another layer of impromptu planning and unanticipated responsibility onto my shoulders. I am the default parent. Still, as much as the last year has drilled into me the saying, “expect the unexpected” and the reality of rampant impermanence, as a Type-A planner, this is a lesson I never appreciate relearning.

4. Trying to undo the achievement mindset. I attended private school from preschool through college. Though not outwardly competitive, I was and am incredibly, detrimentally competitive with myself. Those pressures to meet certain expectations, to do and be and learn and achieve certain things by specific times in order to be deemed “successful” are still present. How ludicrous those expectancies are! How broadly applied, scantly valid, yet widely damaging they are! And as much as I strive to break away from those lists of must-have, -do, and -be for myself and my children, I find my own inner voice sneakily using them to indulge my self-doubt, tryingto wind theirway into my homeschooling. It is a lifetime of conditioning I am attempting to unravel instantaneously, and that’s not reasonable.

5. Navigating my own lofty standards. The standards I hold for myself as a parent are, generally, too high. The guilt I hold for not meeting those standards is immense. If I teach a yoga class midday and the kids are watching a movie in the playroom while my husband works from home, I feel guilty. No one else is upset or harmed by the situation, but I feel guilty. If it’s a beautiful day, and I don’t ensure that the kids are outside nearly all day long after learning, I feel guilty. If they have too few vegetables in a day, if I have short temper, if I don’t schedule a playdate for them during the week, if I drop off a child (I’m not exaggerating) 2 minutes late for an extracurricular activity, if I don’t call my mom during the week, if I vent too much to my husband during our evening time together, if I don’t take the dog on a 2-mile walk… I feel guilty. It’s ridiculous. I’m aware. And this is my perpetual struggle.

As challenging as these hurdles are, we are all FAR better off homeschooling than we were navigating brick-and-mortar school, especially private school. The kids are thriving. Our lives are more livable and less scheduled. The kids aren’t just learning faster but with greater joy and interest. But, as is the case for most everything in life, there are growth opportunities that present as discomfort.

Will this list upend our homeschool journey? Nope. In fact, the recognition of it may prove to aid us on our continued path.

Perhaps next year will be easier.

Our Typical Homeschool Day

Often, I’m asked by non-homeschooling, temporarily-homeschooling, and homeschool-curious friends and acquaintances what our typical homeschool day looks like. Considering the frequency with which I’ve been asked this reasonable question, I figured I’d just post my answer on my tiny corner of the interwebs.

First, a little clarifying background information regarding our homeschool situation. I have a very bright, engineering-minded 5-year-old; a highly creative and mathematically-inclined 7-year-old; and a science-loving 9-year-old leader who struggles with self-confidence.

Our eldest two were formerly enrolled in a private school, which did a great job shifting to online learning last year, but it also helped us realize that online learning simply does not work for us. What does prove most effective for us: workbooks. So, that’s what we use, in combination with a math tutor for our eldest– primarily to enhance her self-confidence — and some small, masked, in-person classes at a local homeschool enrichment academy.

5-year-old’s workbooks
7-year-old’s workbooks
9-year-old’s workbooks

Regarding assessments, we do no standardized testing. I have much life experience that has made the ineffectiveness of standardized testing clear. Instead, we opted to be evaluated each trimester by a certified teacher, though we are only required to hold this assessment annually.

That said, here it is… our typical homeschool day!

8:15/8:30AM- Watch a video, discuss, and journal about our social studies topic.

9:00- Workbook time! Subjects: reading comprehension, language arts, phonics (for 5- and 7-year-old), cursive (for 7- and 9-year-old), math, vocabulary (for 7- and 9-year-old), early literacy (for 5-year-old), writing (for 7-year-old and 9-year-old), and science (for 9-year-old.)

10:30/10:45AM- Work completed… usually. (Some days we move slower, whether it’s because of moodiness or more challenging lessons, but we are almost always done by 11:00AM.)

11:00/11:15AM- lunch

12:00PM- Play outside no matter the weather.

1:00PM- Quiet time (usually arts and crafts and/or an educational TV program.)

2:30PM- Head to a local playground or park.

This is what works for us and our family. It has enabled each child to progress at their own speed along their own trajectory. My 5-year-old is racing through first grade material, my 7-year-old is in a blend of second and third grade material, and my 9-year-old is solidly succeeding with fourth grade work.

What’s most important is that they are all developing a love of learning and honing a more nuanced awareness of U.S. history.

A Big Gender-Affirming Christmas

Isn’t it funny how change so often happens? With our biggest and scariest life shifts, so often things reach a point in transition at which resolution seems almost impossible, even hopeless, and then — suddenly — the change is completely normal. Entirely commonplace. It’s as if life has never been any other way.

For us, this sudden awareness came at Christmas. All three Christmases, to be precise.

2020 meant Christmas was small and multi-faceted to keep everyone safe. We saw my parents (who we’ve seen regularly since late Spring) on Christmas Eve. Just my husband, my daughter, my sparkly son, my youngest son, my parents, and me. Concise but fun, festive and delightfully undramatic.

We ate. We sang (poorly and loudly) the requisite “12 Days of Christmas” with dance moves. We opened presents. Then, we were home by bedtime. Perfect!

On Christmas Day, it was just our little party of five opening gifts in the morning. Then, my father-in-law and step-mother-in-law popped by (masked and distancing, as per their comfort and needs) to see the kids.

My sparkly son came prancing down the stairs to greet them in the outfit he’d been donning all morning: the pink, glittery fairy costume with moveable wings he’d received from my parents the night before. It was a beyond normal sight for us, so I didn’t even register the attire.

Until later that day.

Quietly reflecting on the morning, which whizzed by in the usual festive frenzy, I finally processed the morning scene. My sparkly son in full tulle-and-sparkle regalia and my lovely devout Catholic, imigrant in-laws casually and sweetly complimenting his new garb. How had I missed it? How had I not seen it… felt it… processed it sooner?

He was FULLY accepted. Fully affirmed. Fully able to be his truest self and receive nothing — not a hiccup, not a head tilt, not a questioning dig — nothing but familial love.

Then came this weekend: Christmas Part III. My cousin and my aunt met with us via Zoom for a belated Christmas present opening. My aunt nailed the gifts: a keyboard with microphone for my daughter, a unicorn-mermaid- hairstyling Barbie (one I didn’t even think existed!) for my sparkly son, and a roaring stegosaurus for my youngest son. Not only were the gifts perfect fits for each kid, this was the first year that she’d gifted my sparkly son a Barbie. And not just ANY Barbie, it was THE Barbie.

And that evening, as I reflected on our family’s three Christmases, I realized something. 2020 may have taken and killed and contorted countless precious parts of our life, but it gifted us something absolutely priceless too. Something that could never have come, but through years of dedicated effort, advocacy, battles, losses, shifts, and an ocean of tears.

My sparkly son was accepted. Fully. Completely. His gender expansiveness was not only common knowledge but commonplace in its expression. He was fully affirmed in his current experience as an individual.

If someone had told me two years ago, three years ago, or even last year that this would be the case — this level of pure, unencumbered acceptance and affirmation — I would never have believed them.

So, if you are where I was five years ago with a child diverting from gender norms, know that there’s hope. Know that if you fight for inclusion, if you demand acceptance (not just backhanded “tolerance”), if you openly share knowledge, if you stand fervently as your child’s greatest unwavering advocate and ally, it will get easier. It will get better. The world WILL see the beauty that is your uniquely and wonderfully made child.

Be brave. For them.

Bikini Body Revisited

I’m doing it again! Bikinis.

Yep, those scars are mine. My proof of life, of survival, of being beautifully human. And I refuse to hide them.

That’s right, no one-pieces for me. Not even when Endometriosis bloats my belly or when decades-old internal monologues pelt me with insults. But why?

Am I doing to to get attention? Am I doing it to show off my physique? Am I doing it to keep my diet in check? Nope. I’m doing it for my children.

I had four abdominal surgeries, three close-in-age children, breastfed my three offspring well beyond their first year, pumped breastmilk for donation that fed 30 other babies… this body has WORKED. This body has lived and struggled. This body has scars and strength, imperfections and curves, wrinkles and stories. This body deserves not to be hidden under sweaty layers of sandy lycra or regarded as “unworthy.” If it is a divine creation, it should be treated as such, with joyful celebration.

My children — my sons and my daughter — deserve to know that this is the body of a 36-year-old mom of three. That scars are not to be hidden but to be worn as badges of honor, because they mean I survived. That stretch marks are indicators of growth and life. That what makes us different makes us beautiful. That we shouldn’t hide ourselves out of fear of judgment and certainly never out of shame.

My children deserve to know that they should be proud of their own bodies and their own uniqueness. That they should accept others’ individual forms with loving appreciation. Because one day my children will have scars and stretch marks and individualities on their bodies. Because my children will encounter others with their own visible stories. Because one day they may love others whose bodies are different from their own, in one way or another. And I never want my children to regard those sacred memorials of life with anything other than love.

And as much as I’d love to communicate this message to my children from the flaw-hiding comfort of a perfectly ruched one-piece, how can I possibly effectively communicate this message of body acceptance if I am hiding my own frame? If I don’t demonstrate this, live this, and embody this, I cannot expect my children to love themselves and others without aesthetic prejudice. And, so, I must live it unabashedly myself. I must be an example. In a bikini.

When Memorial Day rolled around and Endometriosis had bloated my belly and winter stolen my tan, I truly wanted to reneg on my own self-imposed rule. Just for this summer. But I couldn’t. My children deserved better. I could do better. I had to be better.

So I put on my bikini and my smile. I ran and played and dug in the sun-warmed sand. And it was wonderful.

I wear a bikini because I want my children to see that THIS is a human body, a mother’s body, a real body. That THIS body, too, is beautiful. That THIS body is worthy of being shown and honored not in spite of, but because of, its imperfections.

The Day My Son Asked to Wear a Dress to School

It had been a long day. Sunday late afternoon after a day of activity, I was putting away laundry in my 5-year-old middle son’s room while mentally reviewing my “new week preparation” to-do list when he asked the question. “Mommy,” he asked, poking his head up from underneath a mound of blankets on his doll-strewn bed, “can I wear a dress to school?”

I stopped arm in midair holding a handful of carefully folded princess nightgowns waiting to be stowed in his top drawer. My mind shuffled for an answer. “I don’t know, Bud. I’m not sure that’ll fly at your school.” I tucked the frilly pajamas into their home and closed the drawer. Grabbing a stack of mermaid printed t-shirts, I paused. I knew my answer was insufficient.

For 5 years this kid had known me and if he didn’t realize within that half a decade that antiquated policies were not going to stand as anything but fuel to my inner fire to tear down harmful, hurtful, double-standard walls so that all children can be better and have better and do better than we are and have and did, then he hardly knew me! But I wasn’t prepared to answer this. I was scared.

“Not that it’s right and not that it’s OK, but kids might say unkind things to you if you wear a dress.” I gently reminded him. “I know.” He said with a cool, unruffled calm I have never personally known. He asked again if he could wear the dress. I paused, trying to think as I sorted socks from skivvies. “I don’t know, Bud. Maybe you should ask your dad.”

Off he went. Ask he did. And he blindsided my husband entirely who, in his own surprise at the bold question, declined the request.

That night at story and circle time, my son brought his book selection to me: Who Are You? (a book about gender and identity.) And that solidified it. This wasn’t just about a dress. This wasn’t just some boundary testing. This was more. More than I knew how to handle.

All night and into the morning my mind spun. What did my mind say? What did my gut say? Why would I say “yes”? Why would I say “no”? I examined it all. And I realized that any inclination to deny the dress was rooted in fear. Fear for my son’s feelings. Fear for my son’s innocence. Fear for what children and adults may say or do. Fear for what this meant. Fear of the unknown.

But was my fear a good reason to deny my son’s request to wear a dress to school? Should my anxieties and insecurities, weaknesses and failings dictate my child’s path? Absolutely not.

Would I allow my daughter the freedom to fulfill such a request? Was I acting from bias? Yes. Shamefully, I noted my own double-standard. If my daughter asked to deny girly garb, would I deny her that? If she asked to cut her hair short, would I force her to keep her long locks? No. Sure, I would miss the dresses, the moments spent braiding her gorgeous golden mane, but this was her body, her life, her identity, her choice. My wants, fears, wishes, and insecurities should never trump her desires for her self. As long as she was not harming anyone and being thoughtfully safe in her choices, I would support her unwaveringly. And so I must do the same for my son.

I felt the anxious quiver of love-based worry fill my heart.

Speaking reason to my fear, I persisted in my internal questioning. Did I want to risk implying that my son should change, hide, or be ashamed of himself? Did I want to risk closeting him and all of the horrific statistics of self-harm that doing so entails? No!

I had supported him thus far, sewing him a mermaid tail costume — despite my complete lack of skill and genetic predisposition to be a horrid seamstress — when he asked to be a mermaid for Halloween. I had hunted for mermaid and unicorn t-shirts and swimsuits to suit his interests. I had pieced together a rainbow flying unicorn costume complete with a fabulous, flowing wig and pink feathered wings for this year’s costume. I’d found him ballet lessons at a wholly supportive dance studio. I’d signed him up for skating lessons when Johnny Weir’s sparkling performances made my son’s eyes widen with joy. My husband had fashioned him a portable hairstyling tray for his doll heads. I’d gone to bat for him, ensuring his school would be a safe, supportive environment in which he could learn, grow, develop, and thrive as an individual. We opened our hearts and home to his daily playroom drag performances. We had supported him wholeheartedly, fiercely, lovingly through it all. This was the next step.

So I realized that I had to say “yes”, whether or not I was ready. Whether or not people judged or balked or refused to understand. Whether or not I was brave enough to do so.

Because I simply had no solid ground, no formidable counter-reasoning to do anything else. Because I loved my son as I loved my daughter and wanted him to grow and thrive and love himself just as I wanted for my daughter. Because I’m a parent and sometimes being a parent means doing what’s right for our kids even if it scares every cell of our being. Because my son deserves to be who he is, whatever that may look like. Because my son deserves an unwavering ally in me. Because this is my child. Because I am his mother.

And this is our next step.

When I Realized I was Parenting Myself

If I had known as a kid that every bad behavior and poor decision I made would come back to haunt me in the form of my own offspring, I might’ve acted differently. (Maybe.) At least a little heads-up would’ve been nice.

Instead, I went about being a stubborn, verbally inclined, willful pain in the rear. And now — as fate would have it — my daughter is just like me. Joy!

As much as all of those qualities make me want to tear out my hair, they are undeniably phenomenal personal assets. And — as the now-adult version who shares these traits — I know it, which sort of adds to the parental frustration in a “what’s good for the world presently sucks for me” kind of way.

Stubbornness can be a beautiful thing because peer pressure and eschewing personal ethics for outside approval are non-issues. Verbal inclinations allow for vivid self-expression and aid in academic endeavors. Strong willpower is never to be underestimated in its value and is a fiery gift of endurance, resilience, and fortitude. However, sometimes these traits are a bit exhausting to harness and guide and just generally parent.

For example, toddler tantrums. A stubborn, highly verbal child with willpower like a steel-plated ox will tantrum for at least a solid half-hour without relenting. Why? Because that expression of discontent incorporates all of the child’s greatest assets. Whereas an easy-going, quiet, amenable child may only throw a fit for five maaaaybe ten minutes before getting bored. Same thing goes for potty-training, or learning to ride a bike, or doing undesirable chores, or… you name it.

However, despite all of the struggles of parenting a stubborn, highly verbal, willful child who is much like myself, there are moments that knock me backwards in awe. Moments that remind me how amazing this fearsome force of a child is. How much potential to grow and blossom and contribute and attain happiness and be truly and ethically herself the child has. And it’s all because of these innate gifts that drive me nuts. I had a such a moment recently.

I picked up my newly first grade daughter from school and asked about her day: if she made any new friends, who she played with on the playground, etc. She went on to tell me that she played with a couple of pals she’s had since kindergarten and a girl who has never been in her class before. Then my daughter said an old friend spotted her playing with this new-to-her girl and called my daughter over to talk. The old friend said that she didn’t like that new-to-her girl because the girl was bossy. Then the old friend disclosed that she didn’t want my daughter playing with the girl. That’s when my daughter did something I never expected her to do, and it both astounded and scared me.

“I want to be friends with everyone,” my daughter told the old friend. My daughter explained to the friend that the newer girl had not been bossy towards her so she had no reason not to be friends with her, but that she wanted to still be friends with the old friend too. Even when the old friend scoffed and tried to make my daughter choose and then refused to play with her, my daughter stood firm.

“I couldn’t choose, Mommy,” my daughter told me. “I want to be friends with everyone and I can’t be unfriendly to someone just because one of my friend doesn’t like them. That person didn’t do anything to me. That’s just not ok.” And that’s when I realized that I was parenting myself.

I’d never instructed my kids on how to handle this kind of scenario because I — foolishly — didn’t yet think it was necessary to do so. But she figured it out on her own.

This situation I’d painfully lived and relived countless times in my life, was only now just making an entrance into her young life. She had many more such tests of ethics ahead.

It’s such a challenging scenario to navigate because in order to be kind to one you often end up hurting another’s feelings, if not losing a friend entirely. Truly, it’d be much easier to just go with the social norm: kow-tow, prove loyalty, and forget personal ethics. But that’s not what I ever did and it seems that’s not what my daughter is doing either. Ethics above ego… it’s not a popular road.

As my daughter chattered on about her day, my mind spun on the drama and frustration that laid ahead for her. All of the friends (and “friends”) and sometimes family who’d tug at her to dismiss her ethics. I thought about how much easier it’d be to swim downstream instead of up. But I knew that easy road wasn’t within our morals. It wasn’t our path.

I recalled all of the upheaval it can cause having such an awareness of moral code, such a fervent stance against choosing sides. How some view it as a lack of loyalty. How some feel hurt if you don’t dislike the same people they do. How some draw comfort from a band of peers rallying behind them to be unkind to someone who somehow riled them. How sororities and cliques and organizational thinking and herd mentality don’t take well to this line of thought. How maintaining personal ethics can cause lost friendships and social woes, but it also enables you to look back at those same scenarios and know in your heart that you chose correctly. Even if no one else can see it.

Because someone else’s insecurity is not a reason to dash your morals. Because a true friend would never require you to abandon your ethics to simply prove fealty.

As proud as I was of my daughter, I mourned for her the easy path she’d miss. I fretted for her the heartbreak her morals would cause. I pined for the friendships she’d lose. I glowed with pride for her strength. I stood in awe of her youthful wisdom and fearlessness. I gave thanks for her fortitude.

That’s when I realized I was parenting myself. And I knew she’d be just fine.

I Am Worthy: Bikini Body Vow

After having three kids in under four years, after turning 35, after having four abdominal surgeries, I thought bikinis were off limits. Then I realized I was being an idiot.

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When I see women and girls of all ages and sizes, shapes and forms baring it in a bikini, I appreciate them and their individual beauty. Scars, cellulite, wrinkles, stretch marks, rolls, rib bones, freckles, skin variations… it doesn’t matter what the wearer looks like, I think she’s fabulous. I have yet to see a bikini wearer and think she is unworthy of the ensemble. So why did I deem myself unworthy?

I told myself I was too scarred, too imperfect, too “Mom” for a bikini. I knew how physically comfortable bikinis were but how mentally challenging they could be (especially now that I didn’t constantly have a crying/sleeping/cuddling/nursing baby blocking my midsection from view.) Yet one-pieces didn’t feel right either, and were way too uncomfortable. I’d look at matronly maillots and moan, but see a two-piece and think: “I can’t wear that.” Until I asked myself: “Why not?”

Why was everyone else a reasonable bikini body candidate except for me? Why did I berate myself whenever I donned a two-piece? Why was I unworthy?

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Because I had scars? Because I was insecure? Because I was imperfect? Because I was a mom? But aren’t those the exact reasons I SHOULD wear a bikini?

Being scarred meant I’d survived. I’d lived. That my body had surpassed hurdles and won. Did I really want to hide that? Did I want my children to think that their own scars were ugly? That these signs of life should be hidden? Did I want my children to view themselves or others as lesser because of their external marks?

No.

Being imperfect was being human. Being imperfect was being unique. Individual. I told my children to take pride in their individuality. Should I not value my own? Could my children  truly honor their own uniqueness if their mother lamented and hid her own?

No!

Being insecure meant I should counter my desire to hide my perceived imperfections and, instead, love them if not simply accept them. Society tells us that surgical scars are grotesque, that stretch marks are unattractive, that an imperfect midsection is unworthy of exposure. Did I want to impart those demeaning messages onto my children?

NO!

Being a mom meant I needed the utilitarianism of a two-piece bathing suit (Hello, peeing in a public pool restroom with a toddler resting his fingers on the door lock!) It meant I likely required a different size top and bottom. It meant I’d earned every damn stretch mark and scar I had. It meant this body didn’t just do… it MADE. This body grew and birthed three lives, sustained those lives through breastmilk for a minimum of a year and a half each, and nourished 30 other babies through peer-to-peer milk donation. Was that achievement not to be celebrated? Did I want to show my children that the remnants of their creation, the souvenirs of their births, the signs of their nourishment were shameful? Should I indicate that the raw strength and soft beauty of a postpartum body are to be concealed? To be hidden in disgust?

NO!!

Realizing the idiocy of it all, I said: SCREW SOCIETY! Heck, screw myself for believing that slop and imposing it on myself! I made a vow to myself — for my children — that I would wear only bikini bathing suits (no one-pieces) all summer in order to show to them and myself that all bodies are beautiful, that scars are a sign of survival — of life lived –, that moms are beautiful too.

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At first I felt jittery with my midriff bared at the pool and then at the beach. I had to silence that internal voice telling me others were judging. I reminded myself: so what if they were! That’s their problem, not mine. Others’ thoughts — perceived or real — were none of my business and shouldn’t confine me.

Day after summery day, I became more comfortable. More confident. I was content in my own skin. I rocked my scars. I shrugged off any jiggle. I smiled at the stretch marks. I owned my physique. I was standing as an example for my children to accept themselves and others as beautiful individuals. I was happy.

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I don’t want my children feeling lesser because of their scars; I want them to rock them as badges of honor! I don’t want my children feeling ashamed of their bodies; I want them to cherish them as gorgeously unique vessels! I want my children to appreciate others’ uniqueness as well. Because we’re all different. And different is beautiful. Scars, sags, stretch marks, and all.

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I’m a 35-year-old mom with scars and, yes, I wear a bikini. Because I’m scarred. Because I’m imperfect. Because I’m a mom. Because I’m worthy.

We’ve Come So Far…

It’s been seven years. My, how far we’ve come!

 

This was the much-wanted child I feared I’d never have. This was the embryo that changed my whole body and my life. This was the fetus that sent my body into gestational hypertension and preeclampsia. This was the tiny new human who almost didn’t survive her entrance and had to be resuscitated twice within hours of being born.

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This was the newborn they questioned would be able to walk or talk or process information with ease, but whom they called a “two pacifier” NICU resident because she was their most vocal guest. This was the infant with latch issues and a proclivity for choking day and night. This was the baby with a ferocious wail and a voracious appetite who woke up six times each night until she was 2-years old.

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This was the pudgy ringlet-haired 1-year old who refused to walk — in favor of pilgrimage-style knee-walking — until she was 19-months old. This was the sparkle-loving, highly verbal 2-year old who was fiercely independent and vocally wilful but absolutely precious. This was the bright, tutu-wearing 3-year-old who loved being a big sister to her toddler brother almost as much as she enjoyed testing her mother’s patience.

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This was the out-going 4-year old who strived to please others and be kind to friends but threw head-spinning, pea-soup-spewing, shrieking tantrums at home yet adored her newest baby brother. This was the 5-year-old who loved kindergarten but struggled to master reading and painfully adjusted to the full-day school schedule.

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This was the 6-year-old who shrugged off dolls in favor of doctor kits and rockstar dress-ups, who dove into Tae Kwon Do and yoga, who finally figured out reading and excelled at math, who uncovered ways to harness her powerful emotions, who expressed kindness to those around her, who had more good moments than rough moments. This was the child who turned the corner from emotional whirlwind to strong, expressive, kind-hearted individual.

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This is the 7-year-old of whom I am endlessly proud, for whom I prayed when I didn’t know to whom or what I was praying. This is the child who changed every shred of me, who tore me (literally and figuratively) apart but inspired in me the strength to piece myself back together.

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I am who I am now because of her. I love her more than she will ever know until/if she has children of her own. For all of the struggles, our worries, our pains (of all kinds and intensities), our sleepless nights, our brutal days, our cherished hugs, our belly laughs, our tears, our proud moments, our cherished memories, I am profoundly grateful. She made me a better me; I can only hope I help her become her best her.

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Seven years behind us, there are no more nap times, no more pumping schedules, no more night terrors, no more sleeping baby on my chest, no more toddler arm rolls, no more kindergarten plays, no more fingerpaints, no more waiting room meltdowns. We’ve come so far.

We have so far to go.